Pam’s compost bin, tucked away under some dusty bottlebrush trees, is one of those shiny black ones that the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners used to sell for a song that look like an abandoned number from Darth Vader’s closet. The promise of these bins is—was—that all the stuff crying out to be recycled—leaf duff, deadheads, snippets—will be, and that the reward will be compost.
When I started working for Pam, the bin was jammed with moldy stalks and leaves. I moistened the contents and over time, the level subsided. Slowly. One half hour’s work per visit will always generate more than enough to fill it back up, so I do a beauty contest to choose which most eligible to rot profitably. The rest goes in the green recycling bin. What? That full, too?
I should turn the contents, of course. And insult my lower back. No thanks. There is no easy way to do it. Take the bin apart? Putting it back together is a waltz with a walrus. A fantasy kicks in, a hunk of steamy funk that I can pile onto uninhibitedly, so capacious that while I’m adding onto one side, I’m taking out compost on the other. No San Francisco garden has that kind of space.
Procrastination is the key. And a capacity for selective attention. I can always deal with it next time.
Next time was this morning, a beaut, gingery light upon bliss and blight alike. In the midst of a general radiance sits the bin. A calla lily protrudes from its midsection like a baby kangaroo.
On my knees, I lift the ground level hatch and thrust my sharpshooter shovel into the pile. I’m surprised by the feel of the resistance, substantial yet yielding, tempting me to believe that there is some compost, and that it will be fairly easy to withdraw.
Incredibly, 6 5-gallon buckets worth. Once I get it all, I remove the undigested top layer, empty the bin completely, then put it back, and add today’s accumulation, 3 bags worth. Including the calla. With the hose I give the pile a moistening, and while I’m at it, wash down the bin, scrubbing it with the palms of my hands.
On a low brick retaining wall lie three items uncovered: a stainless steel spoon, a red-handled scissors, and a translucent marble with a cerulean drift. They look like a hieroglyphic which, with some coaching, I could read.
I put the spoon and the scissors in an empty clay pot and drop the marble in my pocket, a migrating treasure from a country of blissful worthlessness. My pocket is a way station for where it will next get lost.